I love a good romance novel. I’ve written three books in the genre. Actually, five if you count the two that never sold. Even so, currently I’m writing mainstream women’s fiction, which I also love, for Harlequin NEXT, and one question I’m often asked is: how does a women’s fiction heroine differ from a romance heroine?
I’m not sure I have the definitive answer to that, but I’ll take a shot at it. If you were to look at the heroine of a romance novel through a wide-angle lens, you might find she’s really not so different than her “sister” in women’s fiction. However, because romance novels are sharply focused on one aspect of their protagonists’ lives, their love life, we as readers aren’t privy to much information about their other desires.
That sharp focus on romantic love is why the genre is called “romance,” obviously! Eventually, every romance heroine shares a common goal of finding happily-ever-after with a man. Take Cinderella as an example – the ultimate romance. We see her meeting her prince. We see her falling head-over-heels – actually losing her heel, for this guy. We see them overcoming conflicts in order to be together.
In a mainstream women’s fiction novel, on the other hand, the character might be the same, but the focus is different. The story might focus more on Cinderella’s relationship with her stepsisters, how she tries to change what she can with them and accept what she can’t, in order to have a richer, happier life. She might meet the dashing Prince, she might fall in love with him, but their relationship will only be a slice of the story, not the entire pie. Or we might see Cinderella sixteen years after she marries the Prince, when she feels they’ve not only lost their passion for one another, she has lost her identity in the chaos of raising his children.
My NEXT heroines are looking for happily-ever-after within themselves rather than with a man. They might find romantic love along the way, they may even hope to find it, but if they don’t, or if they thought they did but the relationship doesn’t work out, the reader will close the book at the end knowing this woman will be okay. She’ll be happy, with or without that man in her life. Even if he did look like Hugh Jackman and Josh Holloway all rolled up into one buff package, he can say adios and she’ll get over it and move on. (With the help of a little chocolate, and maybe a couple of glasses of wine).
In my October, 2005 NEXT, The Me I Used To Be, the heroine Ally, must learn to let go of issues from her past, including an unresolved love and guilt over giving up a child she really wanted to keep, before she can embrace a new fulfilling life with another wonderful man. In Off Her Rocker, out this month, Dana Logan, who has made a career out of raising her son and daughter for the past twenty-two years, must learn to reinvent herself, to reassess her way of relating to her children when they finally grow up and leave home, before she can find fulfillment with her husband again and their new way of life.
In both books, as well as in all my NEXTS, the women have to discover happiness inside before they can find happiness in their outside relationships. While they search, they typically find themselves on some slippery slopes – sometimes figuratively, other times literally. In Off Her Rocker, for instance, the heroine’s car is stolen during a blizzard while she’s pottying down in the icy ditch on the side of the road, her jeans around her ankles! But as resilient real-life women do, she sheds a few tears and relies on her sense of humor and her wits to steady herself, find a way out of the situation, and continue on.
So if you’re in the mood to see Cinderella at the ball, pick up a good romance. If, instead, you would rather see her ten years later, searching for the Fairy Godmother to help her re-ignite the flame in her marriage and zap her teenagers, grab a women’s fiction novel. Either way, chances are you’ll end up with the happily-ever-after all story-lovers wish for – a satisfying read.
What qualities do YOU look for in a heroine? What novels have you read whose heroine stands out in your mind? What made her memorable?